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Study describes experience of enlightenment
by Jim Karpen

The Review, Vol. 19, #15    Translate This Article
Fairfield, Iowa, United States
2 May 2004

A study to be published in the June issue of the journal Consciousness and Cognition further characterizes the state of Cosmic Consciousness, and offers subjects' fascinating descriptions of themselves.

A main discovery of this new research by Fred Travis, Alarik Arenander, and David DuBois is that individuals can be classified according to a continuum, ranging from ordinary waking experience on one end to the experience of Cosmic Consciousness on the other. The researchers term it an Object-Referral/Self-Referral Continuum of Self-Awareness.

'Where someone stands on this continuum is related to basic attitudes and behaviors,' said Dr. Travis, first author on the study. 'For example, some people are completely overshadowed by experience while others seem to be able to rise above it.'

This continuum is based on descriptions of higher states in Maharishi Vedic Science and descriptions of self-awareness, and on brain-wave patterns during tasks in individuals reporting the experience of witnessing sleep for at least one year.

Three Groups of Subjects

This research compared measures in three groups of subjects. The first group of nonmeditating subjects described themselves predominantly in terms of their thoughts, feelings, and behavior: 'I guess I'm open to new experiences . . . .' or 'I tend to appreciate those things that are different . . . .' or 'I kind of like to forge my own way.' They were 'embedded' in or identified with their thoughts, feelings, and actions. 'This could be characterized as an object-referral style,' Dr. Travis says. 'One is what one does.'

A second group of subjects, who had practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique for an average of seven years, described themselves as directing thinking and behavior -- the first stages of the self 'de-embedding' or separating from the processes of thinking and behavior. 'I'm my own capabilities; my ability to learn,' said one. Another said, 'I am my ability to perceive and be aware.' Yet these subjects still described themselves primarily in terms of what they did.

Subjects Experience Enlightenment

A third group of subjects, who had practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique for an average of 24 years, described themselves as separate from what they were thinking or doing -- their identities, their selves were completely 'de-embedded' from the processes of thinking and behavior.

'My self is immeasurably vast . . . on a physical level -- not just restricted to this physical environment,' said one. And another said, 'It's my Being. There's just a channel underneath that's just underlying everything. It's my essence there and it just doesn't stop where I stop.'

The researchers term this style of functioning as Self-referral. 'In this state, the Self has its own status,' Dr. Travis said. 'It is defined in terms of its own structure, independent of objects and processes of knowing.'

Distinct Brain-Wave Patterns

In an earlier study these subjects were found to have distinct brain-wave patterns. With growth of higher states, the frontal lobes become more coherent in their functioning. The frontal lobes are the seat of moral reasoning, decision making, planning, working memory and sense of self. Higher coherence in frontal areas supports higher levels of moral reasoning, planning, and sense of self in these subjects.

'Though many scientifically minded people may consider enlightenment either imaginary, impractical, or simply outside the boundaries of scientific investigation, the implications of the data are that enlightenment can be scientifically described,' Dr. Travis said. 'We've now come at this from three different angles: responses during unstructured interviews, supported by factor analysis of scores on psychological tests, and brain-wave patterns during tasks.'

Copyright 2004, Maharishi University of Management

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